Opening up our hearts can be one of the scariest things we can do. Making ourselves available and fully invested in the connection with someone we love and care for brings us profound purpose and at times, our deepest despair. I have heard it said that on the yogic path of transformation, it you truly want to grow spiritually, be in a committed relationship. In this Petrie dish of affection, intimacy, trust and vulnerability all sorts of deeply-seeded samskara can make themselves visible under the microscope. The Seer and Seen seeking in real time full unification. To make this work, satya (truth) is a key ingredient.
Oftentimes we exalt the monk sitting in the tranquil mountains. Individuals that follow the prescriptive guidance of Swami Swatrama as ameliorated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika get to nestle into their dried dung sanctuaries devoid of loud company and the cloying obligations of the householder. But the real work, the feet on the street, comes from just getting through everyday life with someone outside of yourself with whom there can be found deeper intimacy within.
No relationship is immune to the sobering if not, at times, brutal realities of our collective co-existence. For anyone who has endured trauma, death, infidelity, addiction or deceptions can attest, the true metrics and mettle of our yoga testimony and willingness to seek expansion through open-heartedness can turn those warm beating beauties into frozen steel cages. Has there ever been a point in a true relationship whereby we haven’t found ourselves shaken and rattled to our core?
For years I sought out the best teachers worldwide. I wanted to learn the siddhis, master meditation, test the limits of my physical body with thumos. Now I have come to realize that it’s not the master teachers from studios’ in far-flung places that will hone my skills, it’s the firmament beneath my feet at the studio I own and those that pass through its doors.
I realized it is my own students that make my best teachers. They are not the monks in the Himalayas but the mother of five, the waiter, and massage therapist that studies in my intensive programs that are amplifying my game.
Through this process and energy exchange, we still learn about yoga and also about one another. We get comfortable and begin not only to share but work through the layers we are peeling away together. Sometimes there are tears, always hugs. Elation and smiles continue on through their graduation and completion of studies and becomes mentorships, friendships and business partners. The yoga is not about the meditation or the asana, but about compassion for one another, our frail humanity. Sometimes we are met with the truth we all so desire, other times, our pursuit of honesty is shattered.
This past week I have personally experienced more sadness meted out with these caring souls than I have in many years. Admittedly, it has been daunting.
My heart is aching like a heavy stone.
This hurting feels like I’m losing my footing rolling that same stone up the side of a steep hill. At the heart of all these situations is lost trust and dishonesty. This is a sad place to be; a destination to which no one would ever want to arrive and yet once down its path, one cannot escape. There was a convergence in the ugliness of dishonesty that intersected and challenged my vantage points on what it means to truly trust, surrender, survive and then forgive. I literally probably have never loved more, or wanted to be more fully present than in these hours of need. I grew up emotionally; I felt a shift spiritually.
By Sunday, I was exhausted.
But I was also lucky. I feel that those of us who practice yoga in earnest have been gifted with yogic tools to cope with these disillusionments and so us yogis can take steps to process, heal and use these experiences to grow, not wither into the fray. Nonetheless, unwittingly living a lie and being lied to sucks. No amount of Om Shanti takes that away. Without disclosing things shared in confidence, I had two students dealing with spousal infidelity and dishonesty, leaving them uncertain of their futures. Another situation a student of mine spiraled out of control in their unrelenting battle against alcohol and drug addiction, months and months of accumulated lies through the acts of omission, manipulation and repression of feeling and trauma.
The most insidious types of lies are the ones that begin by lying to ourselves.
Not even the yoga teacher is immune. Recently I was personally if not gravely deceived by someone I cared for, invested deeply and believed in immensely, my first real foray into the concept of unconditionality, even though not in the shape of romantic love. It was more like unconditional acceptance. Hours spent in the warm presence of this eidolon and instantly I felt protected, safe to express myself freely and without judgment and to offer the same in return. It was a new level of trust, listening and reciprocity. I was grateful for the gift of our time together and believed this was a meaningful friendship with a higher level of authenticity. Well, for me anyway. Like my students, I was equally led astray and deceived. What I learned once the truth of months of misrepresentation and intentional deceit spilled forth, albeit humbly and with sincere remorse, left me bottomed out in my guts, pulled the rug out from under me, and left me acutely empathetic to what my beloved students were feeling in their own lives and sharing with me over the course of many years.
These shared journeys help fortify how we as yogis can utilize the practice and principles of the eight limbs to move past challenging situations where we are betrayed. It would seem impossible by conventional thinking to move past and forgive, to invest in all circumstances in life with equal possibility and beauty. Yet in yoga, it almost demands such rigor and change in mindset. Does this mean you run back to the abusive partner or invest time and heart with someone who is not honest with you, let alone to themselves? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that in dishonesty, at some point, satya will be illuminated and revealed and a greater truth that we all share will come to light. I have cried for seven days straight. I haven’t prayed with greater intent than in my years as a lay pastor at my church. Some of us don’t like the truth. Like digging the sun out from under the earth, the process won’t be easy, may even seem impossible to let go and move on. But if we can live life honestly to ourselves and to others we begin to see the greatest truth of all: we are all one and mere reflections of aspects of ourselves. May we be gracious to one another as we tread with uncertainty this path we call life.